Impending federal bans pose stress to Cornell students.

Kenneth Tsang / The New York Times

Impending federal bans pose stress to Cornell students.

October 2, 2020

Cornellian Content Creators Relieved as TikTok and WeChat Survive Latest Legal Challenge

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President Trump’s announcement in August that TikTok may be banned sent the popular social media app’s creators and users into a flurry. However, two months later, the ban was halted by a federal injunction — allowing Cornellians, at least for now, to continue using the app.

On Aug. 6, Trump issued an executive order that called for the removal of TikTok and WeChat from U.S. app stores, claiming that the Chinese-owned social media companies — Tencent and ByteDance — posed a significant threat to national security and U.S. privacy. Key leaders from both parties have raised similar concerns over the safety of the two platforms.

The ban, which intended to prevent Americans from downloading the two apps, was initially supposed to go into effect last Sunday on Sept. 27, before a ruling by the United States District Court for the District of Columbia temporarily scuttled the administration’s plans.

Cornell TikTok star Melissa Kwakye-Dankwa ’22 — who currently has nearly 240 thousand followers on the platform — said she would be disheartened if the app was ultimately banned. Her channel, which she said sprung out of the boredom of quarantine, made her feel more connected with other creators in the African community.

“There has never been a social media that unifies groups of people, allows you to build community, in this way,” said Kwakye-Dankwa, who expressed faith that the app would ultimately survive its legal challenges.

TikTok however is not the only app potentially on the cutting board: WeChat, one of the world’s most used social media and mobile messaging apps, was also threatened to be barred.

Valentina Xu ’22, vice president of development with Cornell’s Mainland China Student Association, said the announcement left her wondering how she would talk to family members abroad.

“It was a stressful situation to find out how we — my mom, brother and I — were going to communicate with my dad, who is currently on business duties in China,” Xu said. “My parents were on the call for a long time, downloading things like WhatsApp just in case.”

According to Xu, WeChat is the most effective way for her organization to connect with incoming freshmen, who often use the platform to ask questions about how to pay tuition, enroll in courses and recruit for clubs.

“[WeChat] is the easiest way to keep in touch … sometimes this is not limited to the Chinese community, but other Asian and communities as well,” said Xu, pointing out that, despite the company’s ownership, it is not just those with ties to China who will be affected by its removal.

Zoya Mohsin ’21, president of the International Student Union, said that while she uses WhatsApp rather than TikTok or WeChat, the proposed bans are needlessly capricious; banning apps during a pandemic, she said, “just makes life hard on everybody.”

“There is so much going on in the world, why are you focusing on this?” Mohsin said. “It further alienates and stigmatizes a group of people that have not done anything wrong to deserve this.”

Despite the injunction issued last week, the Trump administration has vowed that it will continue to fight for a ban in the event that an American buyer for ByteDance’s North American operations is not found.

Oracle and Walmart have so far emerged as the Chinese company’s most promising suitors. In a deal tentatively approved by the Trump administration, the two corporations would own up to 20 percent of an American-headquartered spin-off. While ByteDance would still possess a majority of the new company, data would be stored in the United States in a move intended to allay security concerns.

However, the Chinese government hasn’t officially signed off on the deal — leaving open the possibility that the threat to TikTok is not over.

But, Kwakye-Dankwa said, “TikTok is not going down without a fight.”